“Chemo Pal for Life”: Oregon Woman Brings Joy to Child’s Hospital Room
With a title like Interim Vice President for Quality and Patient Safety at a Portland non-profit hospital system, one would think that Jana Brott would only have time for business and no time for fun. But for the past eight years, she’s brought nothing but fun and joy to the life of 11-year-old David as his Chemo Pal as a part of the Children’s Cancer Association’s Chemo Pal Mentor Program.
David was diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID, and while he doesn’t receive chemotherapy, he does receive regular infusions. Jana sits next to him while he receives his infusions and does whatever she can to take his mind off of it and make his hospital room a warmer place.
Driven by a life mission to serve others, Jana’s volunteerism has changed the life of David and his family. Jana is today’s Daily Point of Light award honoree and we spoke with her to learn more about her passion to bring others joy.
Describe your volunteer role with CCA’s Chemo Pal Mentor Program.
I work in healthcare now and I have all my life. I wanted to find a volunteer opportunity that helped me see healthcare through the eyes of a patient and their family. It was sort of a dream come true to find the CCA because I realized that I could make a difference in the life of a child receiving healthcare and that my mission was to just bring them joy in a place that was otherwise not very fun. The CCA matched me with David because they thought we’d be a good fit. We both loved Disney and Legos and eight years later, we still do.
What was David like when you first met him?
David doesn’t have cancer, but faces the same immune challenges that require regular infusions and his condition has led to surgeries. When I met him at the hospital, he was 3 years old. He couldn’t talk at the time because he had a [tracheostomy tube] and he hadn’t learned to talk with it so he could only do sign language, which I didn’t know very much of, but learned a lot through him. I’ll never forget, but when we were done for that day, he sat down his teddy bear and goldfish and said “nice to meet you” in sign language. It was so cute.
What is David like now, eight years later?
He’s able to talk now without signing. I’ll never forget the first day he said my name. He still had that trach, but he was maybe 5. It was the best day ever when he said my name. He’s also one of the funniest persons I know. He has the biggest heart. I’ll show up to the hospital and my only goal is to help him have the best experience while having an infusion, but he really ends up bringing in all the kids around us and makes sure that everyone else is having fun too. I’ll never forget on my birthday, I went and bought a ton of Legos and I knew that he would love if we went around and gave Legos to all the kids that were getting infusions that day. He had the best time of his life because he just loves giving away Legos to kids who were having a tough day and loved making everyone around him smile. That’s really the kind of kid he is.
What’s his reaction like when you enter the room?
He sort of lights up because he knows that I’m a big kid and when I show up, we’re just going to have fun. He thinks of all the games that we could play that wouldn’t happen if I weren’t there. When he was little, I think I was also an emotional support to him and his family, without really intending to be. There were times when he had really difficult operations and everyone was tearful and going through a hard time. I would just be there and be the one smiling for them so he could always count on me and have fun in any situation with him.
How does it make you feel when you see David and young children with these life-threatening diseases?
It’s really tough. I didn’t realize how tough it would be to see it from the patient and family’s perspective because there’s so many emotions that you’re dealing with. When you’re listening to your healthcare team talk through scenarios, it sounds like a foreign language. The language was always familiar to me, but to be sitting with them and hearing it too, I understand how complex and challenging it is to be on the receiving side of a situation like that. I’m in healthcare because I want to help people live their life to the fullest. I have so much empathy for our patients and their families. I’ve learned a lot from seeing things through their eyes.
How do you make time to volunteer with your busy work schedule?
I do have a schedule that’s booked months in advance because I have so many meetings and my role spans a lot of hospitals. But I think that even if I can only be there for an hour in between meetings, I will go because the most important thing is showing up and letting David know that even though I’ve got a crazy schedule, I’m going to show up no matter what even if it’s not for the whole time. So I always try to figure out a way to make it work.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
For me, the most rewarding part is seeing that I can make a difference in David’s life and also his courage is a reminder to me that it’s possible to get through anything with joy. That’s the mission of the Children’s Cancer Association and I feel like that’s a lifelong lesson not just for children receiving healthcare treatment, but for adults and the rest of us as we go through our lives day by day.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I think it’s important to volunteer to gain a different perspective on life. It’s a really important part of life to be of service to others. It’s part of my life mission to serve others and to collaborate with others in our community. I think there are so many benefits when you step outside of your own shoes.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
It’s possible to get through any tough experience in life with joy. It’s important to surround yourself with people that bring you joy. It’s the mission of CCA and it really resonates with me.
Do you plan to keep on volunteering for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, definitely. I think David and I will be Chemo Pals for life.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Jana? Click here for local volunteer opportunities.